Which AQHA Class Should You Try?

Which AQHA Class Should You Try?

We look at some of the most popular categories of AQHA classes.

generic rider at sunset at AQHA show

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Part of the territory that comes when you’re riding the world’s most versatile horse is that there is a wide array of classes that you can compete in. Here we round up and explain a cross section of some of the most popular AQHA classes. 


Showmanship, a class for youth and amateur exhibitors only, is designed to judge the showmanship skills of the exhibitors. Judges evaluate the grooming and fitting of the horse, and expertise of the exhibitor in presenting the horse. Each exhibitor is required to perform a pattern designed by the judge with emphasis on preciseness of pattern and degree of confidence exhibited by the showman. 

Western Pleasure

One of the most popular AQHA show events is western pleasure. Contestants compete simultaneously, traveling the perimeter of the arena, and at the discretion of the judge, are asked to walk, jog, lope and reverse the direction of the horse. Horses are evaluated on quality of movement while staying quiet and calm, traveling on a loose rein.

Working Cow Horse

Working cow horse combines reining ability and cow sense, much like the sport of reined cow horse (sanctioned through AQHA alliance partner the National Reined Cow Horse Association). Working cow horse tests the American Quarter Horse’s skills that are applicable to ranch work. The competition consists of two parts: prescribed reined work and actual cow work. Judging is based on good manners, smoothness, cow sense and ease of reining. During the cow working part, one cow is turned into the arena. The horse is required to hold – or box – the cow on the end of the arena, make at least one turn each direction along the fence, and circle the cow both directions. 

Very similar to working cow horse, boxing is for youth, amateur and Select exhibitors with certain eligibility stipulations. The class consists of a reining pattern and single cow work (boxing) on the end of the arena. Each contestant, upon receiving a cow in the arena, holds the cow on the prescribed end of the arena for 50 seconds, demonstrating the ability of the horse and rider to control the cow. 

Barrel Racing

Barrel racing is an exciting race against the clock in which exhibitors follow a course consisting of three barrels in a triangular “cloverleaf” pattern. Riders choose to circle either the right or left barrel first, race to the opposite barrel and complete the course after circling the third barrel and racing down the center of the three barrels to stop the timer. Knocking over a barrel carries a five-second penalty.

Ranch Riding

Ranch riding is one of AQHA's newest and most popular classes. This class simulates a horse riding outside the confines of an arena and shows off the versatility, attitude and movement of a working horse. The class is judged on the horse's ability to work at a forward, working speed while performing the required and optional maneuvers. 

Ranch Trail

Ranch trail is a new AQHA class that tests the ability of an American Quarter Horse to negotiate obstacles that might commonly be found on ranches. Maneuvers include riding over obstacles, opening and closing hinged gates, riding across bridges, backing, sidepasses and dragging objects.  

Over Fences Classes

AQHA offers several over-fences class: hunter hack, equitation over fences, working hunter and jumping. In hunter hack, horses jump two fences individually, then the whole class is brought in to work on the rail. Equitation over fences tests the rider’s abilities, while working hunter is the class that judges the horse’s style. And in jumping, horses race the clock as they sail over fences.

Hunt Seat Equitation

Hunt seat equitation tests an amateur or youth’s ability to ride – not the performance of the horse. Contestants work a predetermined pattern consisting of maneuvers such as changing gaits; travel in a figure-8 pattern; backing up as well as posting on correct diagonal and counter-cantering. Top riders return to be judged as they travel the perimeter of the arena performing gait changes at the judge’s discretion. Emphasis is placed on ability to sit correctly, hold the correct riding posture and control the horse on a precise pattern.

Western Riding

Western riding judges the abilities of the American Quarter Horse to change leads precisely, easily and simultaneously, using both hind and front legs. Predetermined western riding patterns consist of a log and a series of pylons, that the horse and rider must navigate and change gaits – from a walk to a jog or a lope – throughout the course. Reward is given to the horse that changes fluidly and precisely between the middle of the pylons within the pattern.


AQHA offers several roping classes, meaning you've got options! These include tie-down roping, team roping-heading, team roping-heeling and breakaway roping for amateur and youth exhibitors. Tie-down roping and team roping are judged classes, while breakaway roping is a race against the clock.

There are many more AQHA classes than what we have provided here. View the full array of AQHA classes.